Bold testimonies, powerful worship and candid conversations were the focus of the 2018 West Ohio Annual Conference, June 3-6 at Lakeside Chautauqua on the shore of Lake Erie. Bishop Gregory V. Palmer presided over the conference under the theme, “Be Not Afraid, There Is Enough!”
Palmer acknowledged the angst and anxiety of church members as the denomination moves toward the February 2019 special session of the General Conference, where delegates will decide on legislation specific to human sexuality.
“Just when we get to that point of weariness is exactly the wrong time to stop building our relationships, listening to our stories, increasing our capacity, and opening our hearts to one another and refusing to unhitch ourselves from each other,” he said.
Palmer led conference members in small-group discussions regarding human sexuality, including their dreams for the church and prayers for the West Ohio General Conference delegates.
The Rev. Zan Wesley Holmes Jr., pastor emeritus of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in Dallas, and the Rev. Lou Seiple, lead pastor at Stonybrook United Methodist Church in Gahanna, were the guest preachers. This year, the conference brought “Fear Less” segments, which allowed individuals to share their experiences with addiction, racism, gun violence and disaster response.
During times of holy conferencing, members:
- Passed the 2019 Budget of $20,065,646, nearly $2.25 million less than in 2018, a 10-percent reduction. Every conference and district budget will rely on less support from apportionments.
- Passed a Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits recommendation that is largely consistent with past years. The main change is to UMPIP personal contributions: eligible clergy members and local pastors will now be auto-enrolled at a rate of 3 percent, and this will increase at a rate of 1 percent per year until 10 percent is reached, unless opting out of the auto-escalation feature.
- Passed an increase of 2 percent for recommended minimum salaries for pastors, deacons and elders; this is in line with the national guidelines for the cost-of-living increase for 2018.
- Approved a vacation policy that set standards for vacation days, clarified continuing education time away, and encouraged self-care through regular Sabbath.
- Approved a recommendation that rescinded investment restrictions placed on the conference by the 2011 Annual Conference and encourages all United Methodist investors to use human rights records as an important basis for evaluating investment decisions.
- Passed the recommendation calling for clergy and congregations of West Ohio to support United Methodists and churches within the conference that provide material, legal and spiritual services to refugees and immigrants and to support congregations who, abiding by legal decisions of the court, provide temporary sanctuary to individuals or families.
The conference paid 100 percent of its apportionment commitment for the sixth consecutive year. George Howard of the General Board of Global Ministries presented the conference with four awards. West Ohio is leading the denomination in giving to Mission Initiatives and Global Health and is one of the top conferences in giving to U.S. Disasters and Mission Together.
“Light the Way” is a focused plan to develop new faith communities and increase the number of highly vital existing congregations. An offering of $100,800 was collected, bringing the total of gifts and pledges to $2,171,415.
Statistical reports showed the following:
- Membership – 155,691, down 4 percent from the previous year;
- Worship attendance – 96,717, down 3 percent;
- Church school attendance – 28, 933, up 7 percent;
- Professions or reaffirmations of faith – 3,397, down 6 percent;
- Adults and young adults in small groups – 101,349, down 3 percent;
- Worshippers engaged in mission – 50,578, up 12 percent;
- WOC churches served 2,397,613 people with ministries of outreach, justice and mercy. This reflects an increase of 26 percent.
Palmer said he would hold several gatherings throughout the conference this autumn. Entitled “I Believe in the Church: A Time of Inspirational Worship, Teaching and Testifying,” the sessions are open to all West Ohio United Methodists.
“I believe in the church,” the bishop concluded. “I believe in the church not because it’s perfect, but because it is of God. Tell the pallbearers to stand down. God is not done with the church.”